Those who walk in the streets of Aleppo can notice the impact of war on the City. Amidst all this destruction and amidst the war that has not ended yet, one can notice the strong determination of the population to restore their country and life with the help of GOD believing that His strength will support them to rebuild all that was destroyed by the hand of evil and war.
The Presbyterian Church in Aleppo was one of the buildings affected by war as it was completely destroyed. MECC in cooperation with the churches in Netherlands worked together to rehabilitate the Evangelical center for spiritual activities in this church, within the Rehabilitation Program that works on the restoration of social and religious establishments affected by Syrian crisis.
The Presbyterian Church in Aleppo was established in 1853 by the service of western missionary services in the Middle East. At the beginning, an evangelical school for girls was established which had an impact on the local community; especially Christians who were impressed by the lifestyle, behavior and sacrifices of the missionaries. Therefore, they asked to allow them to attend the worship services that used to be held for missionaries exclusively. This was how the seeds of the local church emerged, which afterwards formed the Presbyterian Church.
In June 2012, during the war in Syria, the building of the Presbyterian Church in Aleppo was targeted for the first time. In November of the same year, extremists rigged the church with explosives and blew it up destroying almost 85% of its building.
Trusting the Lord nullifies Evils of War
The spiritual father of the Presbyterian church in Aleppo, Pastor Ibrahim Nseir, said,” The churches were hugely damaged during the war in Aleppo, but they were not the only ones to be affected. Every building and site that represented the civilization of Aleppo and had a strong social presence was targeted by terrorist groups. The sons of the Presbyterian Church in Aleppo were in the same boat with all the people in Aleppo who suffered because of war, destruction and killing.”
He continued to say,” during the war, the church faced a challenge of preserving people’s hope under the terrorist policy that is dominated by killing, darkness and injustice, that is: how to create light amid darkness? How can you plant hope amid despair? I remember the day when we built a prefabricated church for believers to pray there temporarily until we complete the restoration of our church. One of them asked me: do you still have hope that Christians will remain in Aleppo and Syria? I told him: He who created Christians in this region will not abandon them. We are not building this church for our congregation only, we do that because we believe that Jesus Christ is still alive and present in this country; Syria is God’s foothold in this world”.
He added,” During war, the church supported its congregation and the society in Aleppo without discrimination. We drilled three wells in three areas in Aleppo that include people from different religions. We also provided a car to transport water to people in need after ISIS and Al Nusra militants cut water from Aleppo City. The church also distributed food kits in addition to providing educational and medical assistance as we established a charity clinic ”The Evangelical Medical Center of the Word ” that provides inclusive medical services to people for free.”
About the importance of the church restoration, he said,” This place is the identity of the Presbyterian Church in Aleppo since 1848. We are now rebuilding our identity based on the spiritual heritage that we have been carrying for about 170 to 180 years. It is here where Christians, who were named after the Christ as the Holy Bible says, lived. This Church will remain the salt that dissolves to add flavor to the world and the light that illuminates the earth. The future of Aleppo will be good, not because we are good, but because our Lord is good and righteous …Whoever created man from nothing is capable of creating a new society in Aleppo that will testify of the goodness of God in Jesus Christ towards all Humans.”
Pastor Ibrahim Nseir concluded saying,” I say to the Church in Netherlands “ You are our partners”. When The Christ talks about and describes His Church, He does not talk about the Evangelical, Catholic or Orthodox Church; but He describes one church that is the Church of Christ. He compares it to the “body” that has different parts. We are parts of the one holy apostolic church.It is our joint responsibility to rebuild and restore the destroyed church in Aleppo and it is also an opportunity for the church in Netherlands to be our partner in this mission and service.”
Sweet Fruit Nourishing Society in Aleppo
Milad Simo; 61 years old, is a deacon in the Presbyterian Church and a retired employee who lives in the old neighborhood” Al Serian” in Aleppo.
He said,” We used to live in security and peace. We never expected that such incidents would happen to us, but unexpectedly, war reached our country and city. Mortars were falling on our neighborhood, because it was on the front close to the areas controlled by armed groups that were only 200 meters far from our neighborhood. The population was in a state of panic.
“Life became very difficult. We were afraid that one of the rockets would hit the building we were living in, falling on us and burying us alive. We had to leave to Al Azizieh area where we had to pray in a small apartment in the fifth floor. Because there was no electricity, we used to pray by candlelight. We were determined to continue praying despite all the difficulties we faced during the war”.
About rebuilding the Church, he said,” This location is very valuable for us and deeply rooted in us. When you spend childhood in a certain place, it becomes firmly rooted in you. This site is very dear to me and rebuilding it, brings back life to us”.
Pamela Shamas, 26 years old, lives in Al Jala neighborhood in Aleppo. She is an economist and works as a kindergarten teacher. She is a member of the Sunday School in the Presbyterian Church.
She said, “My area was a contact line with an area called Sheikh Maksood. Therefore, all the mortars were falling in our neighborhood. The armed groups were very close to the extent we used to hear their voices. I lost my mother to cancer caused by the fear she experienced because of war. Everybody was hurt emotionally and materially. War did not only ruin buildings; it had a negative psychological impact on the population in Aleppo.
“Many lost their loved ones because of mortars or snipers, some of them got a permanent disability. Through my work, I noticed an increase in the number of children suffering from Autism and I believe war was the cause for that”.
About the destruction and rehabilitation of the church, she said,” The complete destruction of the church had tremendously affected me. From early childhood, I know this church. We used to wait for Saturday so we can meet together in the Sunday School.
“The importance of rehabilitation stems from the history of the church. When missionaries arrived to this area and built a church in 1848, they planted the seed of faith in the residents of the area. Despite the attempts to damage this seed to prevent it from growing, it survived, grew and blossomed. Today, we are taking care of it so it can grow and blossom again giving sweet fruits influencing the whole society in Aleppo”.
A Glimpse of Hope
George Gibran is supervising the restoration activities in the Presbytarian Church in Aleppo. He said,” The church was destroyed completely during war after armed groups detonated it. At the beginning, we removed the rocks and then started to measure topographic levels. Then we started laying the foundations of the new building. The church before war did not have basements. As we are rebuilding it from scratch, we decided to benefit though building basements and a garage.
“The basement will be a garage for cars while the ground floor will be for the church in addition to a terrace like it was before destruction. The first floor will be rooms that will receive spiritual retreats and the activities of youth in the Sunday School”.
The people in Aleppo insist to restore life in their city and raise it from the rubble of war to revive the glory of the past. Their city is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world dating back to 6000 BC. Through History, it witnessed many painful experiences, but it used to stand up firmly after every experience to become even stronger that it was. Perhaps, the reconstruction going on nowadays in Aleppo, including the restoration of its major archeological monuments and ancient markets will wipe the dust of war and depict the love of its people of their city and life.